To the investigative researcher a quest is a high, prolonged by the expectation to venture into the unknown (but rumored) realm. A point of no return, an even deadly one, can be exceeded by the occasional obsession incurred when dealing with explorations into madness. While many such exploits have been known among mindless pursuits of military conquest, few, beyond those to profile the serial killer, have been devoted to artistry alone…this one, that of film making.
Cigarette Burns makes the requirement of its viewer, in order to appreciate its reality potential or credibility, an acknowledgment of this element, so vital to the value of this movie’s interpretation. The madman, Charles Manson once remarked in an interview, “if they ever let me start killing I would get everyone.” Imagine something worse than this, imagine murder and mayhem obsessed to be the only purity.
At what point in this dramatic quest for a legendary film of such sinister promise does our professional searcher for the ultimate in movie making memorabilia Kirby (Norman Reedus) begin to show his own dooming fixation for it? Each along his way reveal a realization of the process which his becoming closer marks him more and more ominously. Until nothing comes to stand in his way of obtaining it, as much for himself, at this point, as for the rich aficionado that has hired him. A man already prepared to die. But for Kirby something different lies behind his intentions, something that might stand in better stead for him “on the other side”.
Kirby’s client, Bellinger (the exemplary Udo Kier) has decided on one last extravagance to add to his collection, one that he will become an indelible part of, himself. The captive angel, held to a stone and used in the making of the fate-binding, La Fin Absolue du Monde is already a living part of his macabre possessions. Under the adept direction of John Carpenter, these elements are woven into an horror movie in a class of its own, perhaps like, La Fin Absolue du Monde, a bit too well.
The writers, in order to obtain the extraordinary effects fitting to such a heightened expectation of horror establish a chronological order of events eerily on the order of occult ceremony with each linked to 1) The Warning, 2) The Invitation to Enter, 3) The Beckon of Favor, 4) The Blood Sacrifice, and 5) The Rite of Dedication (in this case death.) Surely among them, Drew McWeeny, Scott Swan and the creator, Mick Garris, is an informed awareness that goes beyond the usual tepid grasp associated with “magick by Hollywood”.
Although our supplicant hero is revolted by the senseless killing of his lady taxi cab driver by the snuff movie maker, Kaspar (Taras Kostyuk,) a murder done solely to impress a point of La Fin Absolue du Monde’s purpose, the “flashes” (cigarette burns) each closer step has given him reach the fourth stage of his “deliverance” to what lies behind the film’s making and he commits his own blood sacrifice upon Kaspar and his two henchmen.
The marks noted throughout (these flashes) begin with his listening to a tape of an interview between the film’s reviewer, Meyers (Christoper Britton) and La Fin Absolue du Monde’s infamous director, Hans Backovic (Christian Bocher.) His next visit, to a film archivist that had operated the projector at the movie’s only known showing (occasioning an wholesale slaughter he barely escaped,) offers the viewer the first notice of Kirby’s impending doom once he’s been told about experiencing the flashes and replies, “then it’s too late”. Only then does Meyers consent to tell him how to find someone in contact with the Backovic estate.
Now, with the blood of Kaspar and his two men on his hands, Kirby ventures to find the surviving widow of Backovic, now known to have died. It is when he does, he learns the ominous truth about the film’s producer, something Backovic had only shared with her. With this and recollecting Kasper’s words, “What if you have an angel, divine being with the blood of God flowing through it’s veins and you sacrifice it?…” Kirby realizes the full magnitude of what others have been intimating to him. Convinced by what he tells her, Backovic’s widow, Katja (the lovely Gwynyth Walsh) relinquishes the last remaining print of La Fin Absolue du Monde to him, knowing only too well he cannot turn back from this compulsion. The words, “wanting to do penance but knowing it’s too late” were her binding remorse felt for her husband’s memory. Keeping the film this long (one she hates) and now blithely turning it over to Kirby seems like a torch being passed.
Haunting guilt about the suicide of Kirby’s wife, Annie (alluring Zara Taylor) and his client’s own guilt over the way his wealth was acquired become instruments of what the subsequent showing will become. In the dying words of Bellinger, “It is not a movie, it is a preview of the coming attraction of the soul.” Indeed.
But the ending has its own act of contrition, one you’ll just have to see, though not with the faint of heart or anyone under 16.